The Union Doesn't Get Jack


Democrats hope an Obama presidency will bring a surge in union power. Republicans fear an Obama presidency will bring … a surge in union power. A contrarian piece by the Manhattan Institute's Steven Malanga argues that they're both wrong:

[T]he long decline in union participation in this country isn't about to be reversed by a few federal laws. Indeed, despite a lack of success in Washington promoting card-check legislation, labor has been winning legislative victories for years at the state and local level, where they've been able to pass bushels of labor-friendly laws which nonetheless have had no discernable impact on their membership.

Today, for instance, some 32 states have so-called prevailing wage laws that require companies in certain industries that do business with government, especially construction firms, to pay their workers essentially what union members make. These laws are aimed at making it uncompetitive for government to hire non-union shops, thereby slowing their rise….

The results of these hundreds of laws and backdoor deals are hardly impressive. Take construction, the one industry most affected by such laws–and an industry that, unlike manufacturing, can't be outsourced overseas. Even though government controls about 25 percent of all construction in the country, in the last 30 years, according to research by economists David Macpherson and Barry Hirsch, unionization in the construction industry has declined by nearly two-thirds to just 14 percent of all workers, from 38 percent. The decline has been relentless through Democratic and Republican presidential administrations.

Meanwhile, over at The Art of the Possible, the even-more-contrarian Kevin Carson calls on labor militants to try their luck organizing with neither the help nor the hindrance of the state.